1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Tilden, Samuel Jones

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TILDEN, SAMUEL JONES (1814-1886), American statesman, was born at New Lebanon, New York, on the 9th of February 1814. In 1834 he entered Yale University, but soon withdrew on account of ill health, and later studied in the University of the City of New York. He was admitted to the bar in 1841, and rose rapidly to the front rank. In the financial troubles between 1850 and 1860 it is said that more than half the railways north of the Ohio river and between the Hudson and the Missouri rivers were at some time his clients. In spite of his activity at the bar, Tilden maintained an interest in politics, serving in the State Assembly in 1846 and in the state constitutional conventions of 1846 and 1867. In 1848, largely on account of his personal attachment to Martin Van Buren, he participated in the revolt of the “Barnburner” or free-soil faction of the New York Democrats, and in 1855 was the candidate of the “softshell,” or anti-slavery, faction for attorney-general of the state. During the Civil War, although he opposed several of the war measures of President Lincoln's administration, he gave the Union cause his heartiest support. In 1866 Tilden became chairman of the Democratic state committee, and soon came into conflict with the notorious “Tweed ring” of New York City. As the “ring” could be destroyed only by removing the corrupt judges who were its tools, Tilden, after entering the Assembly in 1872 to promote the cause of reform, took a leading part in their impeachment. By analysing the bank accounts of certain members of the “ring,” he obtained legal proof of the principle on which the spoils had been divided. His fame as a reformer brought him to the governor's chair in 1874, and he at once gave his attention to a second set of plunderers — the “canal ring,” made up of members of both parties who had been systematically robbing the state through the maladministration of its canals — and succeeded in breaking them up. In 1876 the Democrats nominated him for the presidency, the Republicans nominating Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio. The result was the disputed election of 1876, when two sets of returns were sent to Washington from the states of Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina and Oregon. As the Federal Constitution contained no provision for settling a dispute of this kind the two houses of Congress agreed to the appointment of an extra-constitutional body, the “Electoral Commission” (q.v.) which decided all the contests in favour of the Republican candidates. Tilden counselled his followers to abide quietly by the result. In 1878 the New York Tribune (Republican) published a series of telegraphic despatches in cipher, accompanied by translations, by which it attempted to prove that during the crisis following the election Tilden had been negotiating for the purchase of the electoral votes of South Carolina and Florida. Tilden denied emphatically all knowledge of such despatches, and appeared voluntarily before a Congressional sub-committee in New York City to clear himself of the charge. The attempts to implicate him in corrupt transactions were not successful; but his political opponents endeavoured to make capital in subsequent campaigns, out of the “Cipher Dispatches.” The remainder of his life was spent in retirement at his country home, Greystone, near Yonkers, New York, where he died on the 4th of August 1886. Of his fortune (estimated at $5,000,000) approximately $4,000,000 was bequeathed for the establishment and maintenance of “a free public library and reading-room in the City of New York”; but, as the will was successfully contested by relatives, only about $2,000,000 of the bequest was applied to its original purpose; in 1895 the Tilden Trust was combined with the Astor and Lenox libraries to form the New York Public Library.

See the Writings and Speeches of Samuel J. Tilden (2 vols., New York, 1885) and Letters and Literary Memorials of Samuel J. Tilden (2 vols., New York, 1908), both edited by John Bigelow; also Bigelow's Life of Samuel J. Tilden (2 vols., New York, 1895); and P. L. Haworth's The Hayes-Tilden Disputed Presidential Election of 1876 (Cleveland, 1906).